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Self-Help

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He gently pushes my hand away but I remain firm, guiding his hand onto the top of his shorts. It’s a dance we do every morning now, he sometimes resisting putting on his clothes, sometimes acquiescing. I am determined he’ll regain the skills he lost when he developed tic disorder, adamant that he relearn so much of what was taken from him.

It’s my new mission.

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Two years ago this fall Justin developed these horrible body movements; sometimes he was frozen for forty-five minutes at a time. We took him to many different specialists, and he received diagnoses ranging from catatonia to his final diagnosis of tic disorder. We saw a lot of regression during this time period- his speech suffered, he lost many self-help skills, and his daily joy seemed to have vanished.

With time, and the right medication, at least the last one has resurfaced.

Justin didn’t truly have spontaneous speech, but he was able to say words somewhat intelligibly on demand, and now he’s really reduced to two words, “help” and “juice.” We are however so happy to see his joy in life return, and with it the affectionate nature that makes him so special. What has not returned are his self-help skills. He was much better at dressing, brushing his teeth, and several other skills before the tic disorder struck, and I’m hoping to get him back to where he was, or somewhere close.

I’m also pushing chores. Why not put him to work?

At Justin’s school they are diligent about teaching him chores. In one of their buildings they have a mock apartment and a kitchen, and Justin has been able to learn chores such as folding towels, putting away silverware, setting the table, etc. We are trying to introduce those activities at home, and so far have been somewhat successful (he likes some chores better than others, but so do I). Some of the students at his school will parley these skills into some sort of job. At this point I don’t see a job in Justin’s future as it is much harder to get him to focus now, but it’s still important he learn these things so he can be a help at home.

And equally importantly, he seems to take pride in what he does, as sometimes we see the glimmer of a smile when he’s done.

I made myself a promise years ago with Justin that I would never try to push him to do things just for the sake of doing them. Truly my goal for Justin is that he be as happy as he can possibly be, and contribute what he can. I’ve seen progress at home these last few weeks- am gratified he’s not resisting, these changes, and is instead embracing them.

Despite having autism, he’s actually pretty good at change.

So we’ll keep at it with these skills, hope to keep achieving more and more until he’s close to independent.

And no matter how challenging it is, I will never give up.

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